If you’ve ever tried to make the healthiest choice at the fish counter without breaking the bank, you know it’s tough. Retailers have to tell you whether fish is wild or farmed, and domestic or imported. But what about the type of fish? Fresh? Frozen? Canned? Here are some tips to help you make the healthiest selections.
Wild versus farmed: Most of us want to know which is better, wild fish or farmed fish. But there is no easy answer. One simply isn’t always better than the other. There are health and ecological issues linked to both wild and farmed fish, depending on the the kind of fish. For example, some wild fish populations aren’t overfished and aren’t heavily contaminated. For other types of fish, the opposite is true. Some fish farming operations use sustainable practices and have a healthy product, others don’t. If you like a type of fish that’s available as both wild and farmed, use the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Seafood Selector to see which is the healthiest. Access the guide on your mobile phone or other device.
Healthy salmon: Salmon (including canned) is the third most consumed fish (after shrimp and tuna) in the United States. Reports of contaminant and ecological problems in farmed salmon has stopped some people from eating it, but farmed outsells wild salmon, likely because it’s cheaper and more widely available. Canned salmon is almost always wild Pacific salmon. Farmed salmon is usually Atlantic salmon. Most of the Pacific salmon is domestic, and most of the Atlantic salmon is imported.
Mercury levels are usually low in most kinds of salmon, but PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl), dioxin, and other contaminant levels can be high, especially in farmed salmon. If you have a choice, try to buy wild salmon (again, almost all canned salmon is wild and has particularly low levels of contaminants). Freshwater Coho salmon that is farmed in the United States is one exception. Cohos are being raised using a new type of fish farming technique and generally have low contaminant levels. On the EDF salmon page, wild salmon from Alaska and wild canned salmon packed in water are considered the best choices. Farmed or Atlantic salmon is considered the least healthy. Farmed Arctic Char is suggested as a good alternative to salmon.
Healthy tuna: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website offers information on how much tuna you can safely eat based on your weight on their Eating Tuna Safely page. The NRDC recommends chunk light tuna over white Albacore because it tends to be less contaminated.
If you like sushi, you may want to avoid Toro, imported bigeye, bluefin, or yellowfin tuna. These fish have very high mercury concentrations – they can weigh more than 1,500 pounds and live up to 30 years. And, bigeye and bluefin tuna populations are becoming seriously depleted. The older, bigger, and fatter the fish, the higher the levels of contaminants. Don’t assume your favorite sushi place is considering these issues when it’s buying fish. If you’re concerned, ask where the fish came from.
Choose small, wild fish: Tuna and salmon have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, but they shouldn’t be your only source of these healthy nutrients. Branch out! Sardines, anchovies, and herring are small, wild fish with short life spans that don’t have a chance to accumulate very many contaminants.
For adults (except pregnant women), the minimum recommended amount is two 3-ounce servings of oily fish per week.
Following these tips can help you make sure you get all the nutrition benefits of fish and minimize any risks. Bon appetite!